BootsnAll indie travel guide

Gadgets on Your RTW Trip

When it comes to travel, everyone seems to have an opinion about technology. Technology is ever-changing, so it’s tough to stay current with what’s available, what’s best for travel, and what’s totally unnecessary. In fact, just now, a new technological advancement was made – we’re sure of it. So, basically, this article is already out of date.

While that may be a bit of an over exaggeration, the changes made during the course of a year is amazing. When BootsnAll editor Adam went on his RTW trip in 2008-2009, he says, “The iPad wasn’t even a thing yet, and we didn’t even have a smart phone before leaving, so we traveled without a phone! Can you imagine? Less than a decade ago, we had did not have a little computer in our pockets. I can’t imagine not having a phone on me at all times now. Plus, we each brought iPods. Do those even exist anymore?!”

Even though people feel passionately about their gadgets and toys, let’s set the record straight from the get-go. There really is not a right or wrong answer when it comes to bringing electronic devices.  Cameras, e-readers, a laptop, tablet, smart phone, or no tech gizmos at all – it’s all what is best for you and your situation!

What we want to do is give you the knowledge necessary to make an informed decision. Everyone has different wants and needs when it comes to technology on their trip, so everyone is going to have a different opinion. The key is to figure out what you need, and go from there.

Smart phones

smart phone

Cell phones have come a long way in the past 25 years. From those giant bag phones to the Zack Morris phone to the iPhone, our little hand-held phones can do a lot these days, and the thought of not bringing your phone isn’t really a debate these days.

Just as recent as ten years ago, most people – let alone travelers – didn’t own smart phones, so bringing one on a long-term trip wasn’t even a question. Now that more people are accustomed to everything that smart phones can do because they use them regularly at home, it’s harder to imagine leaving them behind on a long trip. Your smart phone can be your main go-to gadget. It can serve as a mini-computer, a camera, and a video camera –  so honestly, for the average traveler, a good smart phone might be all the gadget you need.

They’re small enough that the main question isn’t whether or not to bring it, it’s how to best utilize it for data purposes.

Tablet

Tablets have become one of the best travel companions. They’re small, lightweight, and the battery lasts for about 9-10 hours, making it perfect for long bus and train rides. The ease with which you can move around with it makes it great for bringing on trips. For educational purposes, there are tons of great apps you can utilize. But what about a RTW trip? Is a tablet like an iPad sufficient for all your RTW travel needs? Would it just be easier to bring a lightweight, durable laptop?

Proponents of tablets say it’s perfect for your basic traveling needs. It may be difficult if you plan on blogging a lot as typing on the touch screen can get a bit tiresome for long posts. But you do have the option of getting a blue tooth keyboard to bring with you that makes things a bit easier (keep in mind that this essentially makes your tablet a laptop).

Pros of bringing a tablet

  • Size:  Extremely small and super lightweight.
  • Battery life:  The battery lasts up to 10 hours, better than any laptop or phone.
  • Travel:  Great for planes, trains, and buses because of the size.
  • Education: Lots of great educational tools on a tablet.
  • Variety:  
    • It can do most things a laptop can do – email, web surfing, maps, etc.
    • Great for entertainment – watching movies and TV shows – especially with the great battery life.
    • Has 3G and 4G capabilities if you want to jailbreak while traveling and be able to use it everywhere.

Cons of bringing a tablet

  • Expense:  They are expensive, so losing, breaking, or getting one stolen would be painful. Definitely a reason to look into travel insurance.
  • What can they do?
    • While they can do most of what a laptop can do, they can’t do everything.
    • If you plan on doing some serious blogging and/or working, it will be more challenging and time consuming, or you’d have to add a keyboard, which essentially makes it a laptop.
    • 3G/4G is both a pro and a con. It’s really nice to have, but it’s going to be more costly having to buy SIM cards and data plans.

Laptop

Laptop 2

The main reasons for bringing a laptop are for work, photography, and/or blogging purposes.

Pros of Bringing a Laptop

  • Blogging:  If you have a travel blog, whether for fun, family, or business, it’s much easier to keep up with if you have your own laptop vs. trying to do it on your phone or a tablet.
  • Working:  You may be able to score some work while gone if you have some digital nomad skills.
  • Education: If you’re a traveling family, then a laptop may be a necessity as it will probably be your go-to tool for education. Gone are the days of carrying heavy textbooks with you around the world – nearly everything is digitized now, which makes it much easier for road-schooling.
  • Photo editing/backup:  If you like taking a lot of pictures, it’s nice to have a laptop so you can regularly download them from your camera. You can then easily back them up to hard drives or upload them to your favorite cloud service.
  • Entertainment:  They’re great for entertainment. Some people like to be able to keep up with their favorite TV shows, movies, and sporting events, and having your own laptop allows you to do that, though you can do the same with a phone and/or tablet, so bringing one solely for entertainment might not make sense.

Cons of Bringing a Laptop

  • It’s unnecessary:  You can do nearly anything with a tablet and/or phone than you can do with a laptop.
  • Bulk and weight – If you do bring a laptop and you have a choice, you should definitely take the smallest one you can manage to bring. Every ounce of weight you are dragging around gets multiplied when you are literally hauling every possession on your back for months on end.
  • Risk:  
    • While laptops aren’t really expensive anymore, they’re still not free, so that’s one more added expense.
    • It’s also one more expensive item you have to carry with you and risk getting broken, lost, or stolen.
    • Computers are fragile. One drop and it could be totally done. With all the jostling and moving around one does on a RTW trip, chances of it coming home unscathed aren’t terribly high.

DSLR Cameras

Camera

With the advent of good, relatively inexpensive professional style DSLR cameras, it’s tempting to want to join the throngs of wannabe professional photographers. While DSLR cameras are nice to have and produce amazing shots, it’s imperative to actually know how to use one to make it worth the money, space, weight, and risk of bringing it around the world with you. If you don’t know how to get off the automatic functions, then your phone camera will probably be more than enough for you.

If you plan on blogging (for more than just your family and friends) or really enjoy photography, then by all means, bring a DSLR. Just keep in mind that things like tripods and extra lenses and batteries all add up, in cost, weight, space, and risk. Really ponder how necessary it is. While they are much more affordable these days, they are still a target for theft, and losing one or having one stolen just flat out sucks.

Security is an issue that you’ll need to stay conscious of, as cameras can be a great temptation to drunken or unscrupulous travelers, as well as local thieves and pickpockets. With cameras in particular, it’s not unheard for thieves on a motorbike to literally grab them out of your hand as you walk along the street, so it’s important to keep this in mind and keep them out of sight when not in use.

Considering video cameras

video camera

With digital video cameras getting so much smaller and cheaper lately this isn’t as easy as it used to be, but we are still going to try to talk most of you out of bringing a video camera. Of course, if you are a would-be director or cinematographer and you really enjoy editing videos and posting them on Youtube, this is your chance of a lifetime to take awesome footage. But if you are on the fence about this it’s probably best to leave the thing at home.

They are more expensive than still cameras and the batteries go pretty quickly as well, so you end up spending a lot of time recharging. And since the data files are so much larger, it can get to be a project to offload and store your footage as you go. As with most technology these days, your phone can work just fine for most video you want to shoot.

Storing photos

You’ve got quite a few options here and this is getting easier all the time. If you’ve got a fast connection on a public computer, you can upload your photos to a site like Flickr or your favorite cloud storage site, and if you have your own computer with you, it makes it easier as you can do it while sleeping if your hostel or hotel has a WiFi connection. But if you’ve got a ton of photos or the file sizes are large, this can take a bit of time, especially in countries where the connection isn’t what you’re used to.

Since they’re so small, bringing a small portable hard drive along with you might make sense as well, just to have another backup. These are getting smaller and cheaper every month. Some of the more expensive models even have a preview screen on the hard drive so you can sort easily.

E-readers

If you are a voracious reader who can easily go through a few books a week, purchasing an e-reader like a Kindle and loading it up with books can save you both money and space in your bag. Along your journey you’ll have lots of downtime, waiting for delayed planes and sitting on broken down buses. If you’re a traveling family, chances are that books and literature will be a big part of the educational plan, and an e-reader can save you loads of space. You can get your literature plan together before leaving and have all the materials you need downloaded and ready to go the day you walk out the door.

Like with all your electronics, if you do choose to bring an e-reader, just be sure to keep it secure when you aren’t using it. And if you bring a tablet, you might be doubling up on unnecessary gear.

Au natural

And then there are those who refuse to travel with any gadgets. You know the ones. The guys who have a 25-liter pack that isn’t even filled and seem to get buy on virtually no gear at all. These travelers simply like to travel and don’t want to fuss around with any technological advancements. For many people the idea of traveling long-term involves leaving their world behind, at least to some degree. An occasional trip to the internet cafe or hostel computer works just fine for this traveler, and if that’s the way you want to go, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Pros of Going Au Natural

  • No worries:  You won’t have to worry about any expensive gear.
  • Less luggage:  No second bag for all your chargers and cords.
  • Do what you came for:  You can focus on traveling instead of staying connected to everyone at home. You did leave for a reason, remember?
  • Less expense:  
    • Your trip will cost less with less items to worry about. No expensive gear to buy, no data plans to worry about.
    • You won’t have to worry about extra insurance just for all your electronics.

Cons of Going Au Natural

  • Loved ones:  It will be more difficult to stay connected to loved ones back home.
  • Education: While it’s certainly possible to take care of educational needs without any technology, it just makes it so much easier now. Talk to any family who traveled long-term before phones and computers were commonplace.
  • Research:  Things like researching and booking flights will be more time consuming.
  • Photos:  It will be more difficult and time consuming to back up all your photos. If you lose or break a camera or memory card, you are more likely to lose photos.
  • Blogging:  If you plan on having a blog, you either won’t keep up with it or you will spend a lot of time in internet cafes.

Gadgets can certainly assist the traveler and can be really nice to have, but too many can be a pain to worry about all the time. It’s important to do as much research as possible and make an informed decision. It’s also important to be honest with yourself. Just because someone else has no problem traveling with no electronics whatsoever doesn’t mean that you’ll like it. If you’re a tech person now, that’s not going to change when you leave for the trip. So do your research, think things through, and trust your instincts.

To read more about this topic, be sure to check out the following article and peruse the message boards for more on this popular topic:

Gadgets Checklist

Ask yourself the important questions when deciding to bring a laptop and/or cell phone or not:

  1. Will you be taking tons of photos?
  2. Do you plan on blogging?
  3. How important is it to stay connected?
  4. Do you get bored easily? Do you break out in hives at the thought of limited movies, tv shows, and sports?
  5. Do you know how to jailbreak/unlock your cell phone?
  6. Do you understand the concept of sim cards for using your cell internationally?
  7. Do you want to have a budget for your cell phone bills/costs?
  8. Is a goal of your trip to get disconnected?
  9. How much do you plan on Skyping/staying in touch with family and friends?
  10. Consider other options like tablets
  11. Remember that internet cafes and hostel computer stations are still quite common

Photo credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

 


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